Posts tagged with "Junya Ishigami":
Junya Ishigami’s 2019 Serpentine Pavilion has been purchased by technology firm and spa operator Therme Group, the same buyers of last year’s Frida Escobedo-designed installation. The acquisition was recently announced at the Serpentine Galleries’ Frieze Breakfast to mark the opening of Frieze London. This year is also the second consecutive year of Serpentine’s partnership with the Therme Art Program. The program’s mission is to “broaden conversations about art, technology, and architecture” through developing and realizing large-scale art projects to be exhibited in the group’s thermal baths. The company wants to challenge the limitations of conventional exhibition spaces, something the installations have been used for before—take SelgasCano's 2015 Serpentine Pavilion, which was repurposed into a flexible exhibition space in L.A. The event featured remarks by Serpentine Galleries artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Mikolaj Sekutowicz, curator and CEO of the Therme Art Program. During the breakfast, Sekutowicz remarked that “It has become incredibly important to merge nature and human architecture to overcome the environmental challenges our civilization is currently facing. As a company, we are actively searching for solutions to challenges in architectural design and city planning through art,” according to a press release. Back in June, Therme hosted an Art and Architecture workshop series with Ishigama in the pavilion, which aimed to challenge “ideas of contemporary art and architecture emphasizing their potential in reframing the ways we plan and build our cities.” There, Ishigami explained his ‘free space’ philosophy, in which he aims to seek harmony between manmade structures and those that exist in nature. Obrist elaborated on this during the Frieze breakfast saying, “His gravity-defying ‘slate roof’ has welcomed thousands of visitors to the park this summer to enjoy both the space itself and the many live and experimental performances that are programmed especially for the space. It is exciting to imagine its future life in a new environment.” Therme Group plans on exhibiting the pavilion to the public at its various resorts around the world.
Junya Ishigami’s sinuous stone 2019 Serpentine Pavilion is now complete and will open to the public this Friday, June 21, on the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in east London. Ishigami worked closely with AECOM to design a lightweight, open-ended structure that floats a canopy of slate tiles above an occupiable void. Ishigami, the fourth Japanese architect to be tapped for a Serpentine commission since 2000, has designed a structure meant to evoke the feeling of wandering into a cave or forest as an extension of the natural landscape that complements the traditional architecture of the Serpentine Galleries. Sixty-seven tons of slate were used to create a swooping shingle roof that references a traditional building material found worldwide as well as natural rock formations. The triangular pavilion curves downwards at the corners and visitors can enter through the uplifted middle sections, imbuing the roof with a “billowing” motion. Inside, a forest of white columns has been randomly distributed and once open, the pavilion will be filled with simple tables and chairs designed by Ishigami. This year’s Serpentine Pavilion will be open to the public from June 21 through October 6 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Serpentine Gallery will be staging its usual site-specific movie screenings, dances, written work, art, and dance as part of its Summer at the Serpentine series. Of course, if you’ve been following the news, this year’s pavilion hasn’t been without its share of drama. The discovery that Ishigami + Associates was requiring its interns to work 13-hour days, six a week for free (on top of having to supply their own equipment) set off a fervor online, and the Serpentine Gallery ordered the studio to pay anyone who was working on the pavilion. The controversy doesn’t end there. Just this morning, the head of the Serpentine Galleries, Yana Peel, resigned, one week after the Guardian revealed that Peel co-owns the Israeli tech firm NSO Group, which licenses out spyware used to crack down on protestors and dissidents around the world. The Serpentine Galleries released the following statement this morning, lauding Peel’s tenure: “Yana leaves the Serpentine Galleries deeply grounded in its mission to provide both established and emerging artists with a dynamic platform to showcase their work, and well-positioned to thrive. While we have every confidence in the Serpentine’s ability to continue to serve artists, visitors, and supporters in the future, she will be sorely missed. The arts sector will be poorer without her immeasurable contributions to our cultural lives.”
The fallout over Junya Ishigami’s use of unpaid intern labor continues, as the Japanese architect canceled a lecture originally scheduled for April 18 at MIT over the issue. In March, it came out that Ishigami, who had been chosen to design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, was recruiting unpaid interns to work 13 hour days, 6 days a week. On Instagram, Adam Nathaniel Furman revealed that prospective interns were also expected to supply their own computers and software, and that the firm would be unable to help prospective interns relocate to Tokyo for the 8-to-12-week internship.
After facing harsh blowback online, the Serpentine Gallery stepped in to announce that it was unaware of the practice at the time of Ishigami’s selection and would require Junya Ishigami + Associates to pay anyone working on the pavilion. The news quickly sparked a discussion over unpaid labor, and a number of other studios defended their decision not to pay interns, or to admit their culpability. Ishigami + Associates has stayed silent on the matter and refused a request for comment when the news originally broke. According to Archinect, students and faculty at MIT had viewed the lecture on April 18 as a chance to ask the firm about the controversy and wanted to schedule a separate event to discuss the issue. The studio demanded that there be no Q&A session at the original talk, which was to have been an account of its work, and declined to participate in a secondary discussion. Ishigami + Associates ultimately canceled the original event. On April 25, the Architecture Lobby released a statement on unpaid internships to Archinect. “Meanwhile,” the open letter reads, “as recently reported by Dezeen, Karim Rashid insists that unpaid internships are a ‘fork of furthering education.’ Rashid offers a four-month unpaid internship in his office, justified by his claim that ‘an intern can learn in three months more than a year or two of education, and education in USA is costing that student $60,000 to $100,000 a year,’ making universities, in his view, ‘far more’ exploitative. “There is no lesser evil in worker exploitation and a prohibitively expensive education system, and there is plenty of work to be done in fighting to change both.” The full statement can be read here.
After 2019 Serpentine Pavilion designer Junya Ishigami came under fire last week for hiring unpaid interns, the online fury, and response from Ishigami, has been swift. The Serpentine Gallery has told the Tokyo-based Junya Ishigami + Associates that it must pay anyone working on a Serpentine project, and the surrounding discussion has raised larger questions over the value of labor in architecture. The furor began on March 22, after architect Adam Nathaniel Furman revealed an internship posting for Ishigami + Associates on Instagram. Prospective employees were expected to work 13-hour days, six days a week for free, and would have to supply their own computers and software. Internships were expected to last 8-to-12 weeks, “or more.”
The Serpentine Gallery, which only uses paid labor on its installations, told the Architect’s Journal that it was unaware of the practice and would contact Ishigami + Associates over the matter. Now it appears that the gallery has ordered Ishigami to pay any interns working on the pavilion. While the problem has been framed as something that’s ubiquitous in Japan—the 2013 pavilion designer Sou Fujimoto was also criticized at the time for using unpaid labor—that doesn’t mean unpaid internships aren’t prevalent elsewhere. After the news originally broke, commentators and architects spoke out and provided examples of studios that still don’t pay their interns.
Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental reached out to Dezeen yesterday in a collective open letter and announced that it would be taking the drastic step of ending all internships. The studio, which claims that it has hosted over 150 interns over the years, framed the move as not wanting to be seen as exploiting its interns in an atmosphere of hysterics. The firm laid out a number of benefits that its interns had received in the past, including a “transfer of knowledge,” but also conceded that prospective applicants would need to move to Chile and support themselves for 4 months. In a quote pulled from a comment below the recently recirculated 2016 Archinect editorial, “Brexit: a chance to roll back the interventionist state and unleash entrepreneurial creativity,” Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects laid out his stance on the issue. In his defense of unpaid or low-paid internships, Schumacher claimed they are the result of a well-functioning market, where such internships are transactions between employers and their employees, and that students had the option of not accepting them. Additionally, he claims that mandating internships be paid would be the government meddling in the free and open competition between companies. “I’m just happy that there is some momentum on this,” said Adam Nathaniel Furman, who has regularly been posting exploitative job listings via Instagram under the hashtag of #archislavery. “It seems to pop up every few years but nothing is done, however now with the model of metoo and other forms of communal pressure, I think it is time to end these practices which are exclusionary of those from less well-off backgrounds (I have heard so many stories of those from less well-off backgrounds leaving the profession because of encountering this culture), and exploitative of those who do take them up. I’m hoping this will start a chain reaction where the whole ecosystem of low paid cultural commissions, unpaid competitions and free pitch work that this sustains, is finally blown to smithereens and consigned to the scrapheap of history where it belongs...”
Junya Ishigami + Associates declined to comment when reached for this story.
Junya Ishigami, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion designer, has come under fire after an Architect’s Journal report brought the Tokyo-based Junya Ishigami + Associates’ internship policy to light. A student who reached out to the firm to apply for an internship reportedly told the Journal that they would be expected to work six days a week, from 11 AM to midnight, for free and would have to supply their own computer and accompanying software. The internship would last for 8 to 12 weeks, “or longer,” according to emails reviewed by the Journal. Prospective interns would also be on their own in relocating to Japan and in acquiring a visa. The student ultimately decided not to apply, citing the extreme workload and high price of living in Tokyo. Unpaid internship culture is still pervasive in Japan, but a number of British organizations have come out against the practice, including the Serpentine Gallery. A Serpentine spokesperson told the Journal that they weren’t aware of Ishigami + Associates’ use of unpaid labor and would be looking into the situation. Additionally, they noted that “the Serpentine only supports paid positions on all of its projects and commissions, and is a London Living Wage employer.” This isn’t the first time a Japanese Serpentine Pavilion designer has drawn flak for using unpaid interns. The 2013 pavilion architect, Sou Fujimoto, was accused of doing the same and defended himself in Dezeen, saying that "in Japan we have a long history of interns and usually the students work for free for several periods. It’s a nice opportunity for both of us: [for the employer] to know younger generations and for them to know how architects in Japan or different countries are working." AN has reached out Junya Ishigami + Associates for comment and will update this article accordingly.
The 2019 Serpentine Pavilion has found its architect. Junya Ishigami, the Golden Lion winner at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale, has designed a monolithic stone canopy to rise on the grounds of London’s Serpentine Galleries. Ishigami’s pavilion will open on June 20 this summer alongside the gallery’s augmented reality collaboration with Google, Sir David Adjaye, and a prospective design competition winner. “My design for the Pavilion plays with our perspectives of the built environment against the backdrop of a natural landscape,” said Ishigami in a statement, “ emphasizing a natural and organic feel as though it had grown out of the lawn, resembling a hill made out of rocks. This is an attempt to supplement traditional architecture with modern methodologies and concepts, to create in this place an expanse of scenery like never seen before. Possessing the weighty presence of slate roofs seen around the world, and simultaneously appearing so light it could blow away in the breeze, the cluster of scattered rock levitates, like a billowing piece of fabric.” Ishigami, born 1974, previously worked at SANAA until 2004, when he left to form Junya Ishigami + Associates in Tokyo. The firm’s work has often been described as minimalist, yet still active and in dialogue with surrounding landscapes, and the 2019 pavilion seems like it should be similar. Ishigami has proposed layering slate tiles to form a single cavelike structure and that will recontextualize the roofing materials into something that appears both natural and contrived. The contemplative, naturalistic pavilion appears to share themes, materials, and colors with last year’s perforated installation from Mexican architect Frida Escobedo. The Serpentine Pavilion, now in its 19th iteration, will be open to the public from June 20 through October 6 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. A slate of programming has been lined up as part of the annual Summer at the Serpentine series. The gallery has commissioned site-specific films, dances, art pieces, written work, and more to accompany the pavilion on select Fridays. The pavilion will be sponsored by Goldman Sachs for the fifth year in a row.
This year’s Monterey Design Conference could have been titled the "Monterey Design Short Video Clip Festival." For as long as I can remember, most of the presentations at the conference have followed the same formula: show slides of recent work and explain them. But now most of the speakers are trying to tell a more nuanced story, informed by our mobile-app/social-media/you-are-never-offline age. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I checked in with attendees to get their impressions. Architect Clive Wilkinson was the first speaker. Some hardcore architects didn’t like the idea of an interiors presentation opening the event. But given the amount of interiors work that technology has generated, I thought it made sense. But Clive’s text slides didn’t fit the image slides. I loved the lecture that architect Rand Elliot gave because he linked growing up in Oklahoma to the work he does there, showing how the cars, gas, and big skies of his home state influence his approach to place. Some folks I talked to were snobbish about his presentation, but I thought an Eamesian sense of hospitality pervaded his entire presentation, including a broadsheet of his poetry that he gave to everybody. Attendee and architect George Bradley said that it was his favorite lecture: “His demeanor, his work, ethos, and pursuit for catching light are inspiring. I actually got goosebumps about architecture all over again. He also had the best video, and I wish his was the only video we saw over the weekend.” Merrill Elam of Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects seemed to have more videos than anybody else. About half the people I spoke to loved her lecture and mentioned how it revealed her process. The other half was left unimpressed. As Mallory Cusenbery of Ross Drulis Cusenbery told me, “I think Merrill Elam should get an award in the category, ‘Best Presentation That Nobody Understood.’” Video is here to stay, but it was hard to see what scenes from the film Apocalypse Now had to with anything. Most folks that I chatted with agreed that the stars of the show were Spanish architect Carme Pinós and Japan’s Junya Ishigami. Pinós wandered all over the stage, gesturing and ending almost every sentence with “No?” As designer Addison Strong said, “And Carme Pinós....ah well, I have a huge crush on her! I found myself hanging on her every word and image. Her plan sketches become something ‘other’ as they morph into three dimensions and get extruded first into models and then buildings. You get the feeling she is constantly exploring, even when the project is under construction.” Ishigami was less daring in his presentation style, but his work stunned the crowd. Architect Cary Bernstein mentioned him and Pinós as the two standouts, as did others. “Junya Ishigami's near-fantastical structures perfectly complemented Carme's tectonic approach,” Bernstein said. Strong added, “His work was more than a little odd, but each project represented a true investigation of something that was of personal interest to him that he hoped would also have meaning for the users. I found him incredibly optimistic, and we can never have enough of that in architecture.” Speaking of optimism, I always find the “Emerging Talents” session of the conference worth attending. Everybody I talked to agreed that architect Casper Mork-Ulnes and Alvin Huang of Synthesis Design + Architecture were highlights. Mork-Ulnes had a clear message that linked his Norwegian roots and his experience in the West. Huang and his firm embrace all kinds of design exploration. As Strong said, “I particularly liked the work of Casper Mork-Ulnes on the first day and Alvin Huang on the last….they represented polar opposites—the analog vs. digital processes of design that demonstrate that either process is valid when done with care.” Every year the conference presents a “tribal elder.” As he often has in years past, architect and historian Pierluigi Serraino introduced the sage. This year, the elder was Claude Stoller. Serraino, who could be Dick Cavett, Italian and California Modern Division, must have known he would be unable to keep Stoller on track, so he began the “conversation” with a brief summary of the work and its significance. Later Michelle Huber, a principal at Studio Bondy Architecture, told me that this session was her favorite. “I felt like I was witnessing modern architectural history before my eyes. “ When I asked folks about why they came, the most repeated words were “inspiration” and “camaraderie.” People told of connecting with old friends from work or school and meeting architects they have long admired. The presentations that resonate the most tell a fresh, authentic, and coherent story—around a campfire, real or imagined. A little bit of wine doesn’t hurt either. Hint: bring your own.
A weekend at the 2015 Monterey Design Conference (MDC) held at Asilomar leads to a wealth and variety of insights about architecture and design. Including a lesson in "uglyful," says Guy Horton. I learned some new things at the 2015 Monterey Design Festival. Wait. I meant to write “conference.” Monterey Design Conference. That was a true slip. Everybody knows it’s the Monterey Design Conference. Sorry. But to me it was more like a design festival. And is it just me or did MDC seem edgy and on edge this time around? It seemed to pull the 800+ crowd—the conference sold out for the first time in its history—along for a wild ride. This was in no small measure due to the natural and off-the-cuff tone set by Reed Kroloff, who emceed the whole affair. It was, to mention just a few of the many highlights, a whirlwind of poetry, Jimi Hendrix, hot rods, and light by self-styled “stray dog” Rand Elliott. It was video of Liz Taylor applying makeup, Apocalypse Now, Jimi Hendrix again, and the sublime and sometimes frightening world of the “uglyful” by Atlanta dame Merrill Elam. With her, we all went down the rabbit hole. Feel free to dig deeper into this. Later, back on solid ground, came the precision of Bernard Tschumi’s words and drawings, pulled from the codex of his experience; the urgent, sometimes funny, and always intricate art of Pae White; and Junya Ishigami’s disappearing architecture, which took the wind out of anything that tries too hard or uses too much building material. The “emerging talent” definitely emerged. Doris Kim Sung, principal of DOSU Studio Architecture, pretty much mapped out how she owns the territory of thermobiometals and it will be everybody else’s job to catch up. Using his 15 minutes to the max, Alvin Huang, principal of Synthesis Design + Architecture, posed a series of questions as design propositions that will keep him, and others working in the digital realm, busy for at least the next 15 years. The whole thing was like a carnival, with bonfires and architects in black drinking the local Syrah on Monterey's powdery white sand. I know for a fact that at least one architect went surfing every morning. There was a nice left just off the Asilomar grounds. On the beach I bumped into Takashi Yanai and Patricia Rhee (both in black) from Ehrlich Architects. The entire firm was at MDC to be honored as the 2015 AIA Firm Award winner. “It really makes you think differently,” said Rhee when asked what the conference means to her. “It’s definitely out there,” said Yanai. “It’s like being in school again.” “What was most significant to me was hearing a range of mature, truly individual voices ringing out with specificity and confidence. The individual voice in architecture is something that takes years and years and decades to establish, and for many it never solidifies, never gels,” says MDC conference chair Alice Kimm of John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects. The voices were indeed individual and, like Elam’s “uglyful,” had the power to take us outside ourselves, even if only for a weekend. And it worked. It’s all a little hard to pin down in 500 words. Just look at the relentless, blow-by-blow @mdc_conf Twitter feed and you’ll get the idea. “I recommend that everyone experience MDC at least once,” said Kimm. “It has a weird but magical combination of gravitas, levity, and inspiration that stays with you for a long time.”
Have you ever found yourself thinking: “If only they had invented a/an—insert really clever device here—my life would be so much better?” For instance, a “clam kayak” that you could serenely float along in after a long week at work, or a “slide bridge” that offered the option to well, slide, rather then walk down a flight of stairs. It sounds too good to be true, but these inventive concepts were just two out of the twelve winning submissions of the first Lexus Design Award competition. The competition, conducted in collaboration with designboom, invited some of the most talented visionaries from around the world to submit their innovative design ideas. The theme of the 2012 competition was “Motion.” Contestants were asked to submit ideas that responded to issues in daily life and provided solutions related to movement. With such an abstract theme, contestants were allowed to let their imaginations run free, and they certainly did. 1,243 submissions were received, 12 winners were selected, and the top two were awarded a prize that appropriately reflects the innovation of the competition—the opportunity to see their designs come to life with the help of world-famous professionals. First place went to Hideki Yoshimoto and Yoshinaka Ono of Tangent for their “INAHO” lighting concept. The designers incorporated their natural environment into their vision for an interactive interior lighting system inspired by the movements of an ear of rice. The delicate freestanding panicles, or bulbs, arranged in a ring and emitting a golden glow, gently sway towards people as they approach the fixture. Yoshimoto and Ono will work with world-renowned product designer Sam Hecht to realize their vision. Second place was awarded to the Japanese Hitomi Igarashi for his design entitled “Making Porcelain with ORIGAMI.” The design clearly integrates the traditional Japanese paper folding technique; porcelain casts will be made from paper molds. Igarashi will be mentored by Japanese architect Junya Ishigami who will help him create the prototype for his design. Both prototypes, along with the designs of the other 10 winning entries, will be exhibited during Milan Design Week taking place this April. Some of the other winners include the Spanish Pablo Fernandez-Goula and Pablo Figuera's "Bscooter," an electric scooter whose sleek and compact design was inspired by the Swiss Army knife, the Italian Rudi Davi's "KLAVA lamp," which remains balanced in any position and emits precise illumination in any setting, and Taiwan's Dear Cai's "FLY," a device that will efficiently disperse crowds throughout Taipei's bustling metro transit. Below are the designs of the 10 finalists whose works will be featured during Milan Design Week:
Check your rearview mirrors, Audi. The Japan-based luxury car company Lexus recently announced the launch of a new design award that calls for proposals on the theme of “Motion”: ”Our daily lives are continuously filled with motion. The motion of things, the motion of people. Moving people’s hearts. Shifting consciousness…” You get the idea. And it’s one that may ring a bell—the theme of this year’s Audi Urban Design Award was “Mobility.” In an intriguing twist, architect Junya Ishigami of Tokyo, one of the 2012 Audi award finalists who dropped out of that competition before the October judging, has now reappeared as a “mentor” to the Lexus award. There’s the requisite big-name panel of judges (Antonelli, Ito, and more), and a five million yen (about $60,000) prize for each of ten winners. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Audi.
The 2010 Venice architecture biennale closed on Saturday—at least for media representatives, as journalists were required for the first time to turn in their press passes and enter as public citizens (tickets, $25). I hated giving up that pass as it allowed me access to the exhibitions both at the Arsenale and in the giardini, home of the national pavilions. Though Venice is hardly a major military installation there are canals in the area that are off-limits to civilians; a water taxi driver informed my group that only a special permit would get us into the canal so I produced my press pass and he said “va bene” and he drove us up the canal. The power of the press! I walked the exhibition again but this time trying to imagine the message it was communicating to the public rather than to professionals. It was now no longer possible to speak with the designers of the installations who were made available for the press to help explain their projects. In one bay of the Arsenale, for example, an elaborate recording studio space had been created in which Hans Ulrich Obrist dramatically interviewed biennale participants live during the vernissage but there was now only silent faces of interviewees on isolated flat screens with voices accessible by head phones. The fantastically elegant installation Architecture as Air: Study for Chateau la Coste by the Japanese architect Junya Ishigami was still there, that highlight of jury day that was later, as we reported, knocked down by a rampaging cat the night before the opening. Now as you walk by the piece, its a huge bare room with monofilament fragments scattered across the floor, a mere memory of the installation that won the Golden Lion for the best project in the exhibition. Small groups of workers are trying to figure out how to reconnect the piece, while at a computer, some five techies try to figure out how to put it back together again before the end of the biennale. Visitors still wonder by, not sure what to make of the mess. In fact, the Venice biennale, like any architecture exhibition, communicates with two audiences between which its curators and directors must always mediate: the professional and academic architecture community, including the design press, and the public, particularly young students from Italy and Europe. This problem of how to display architecture to different audiences is of course an issue with any architecture exhibit, but in Venice it takes on added meaning because architects have looked to the biennale as the most experimental and trend-setting event in the architecture world. Yet its curators—from the first by Vittorio Gregotti (“On the Subject of the Stucky Mill”) to this year’s Kazuyo Sejima (People Meet in Architecture)—always claim they are thinking of the public first when they create their biennales. Which always leads them to being slammed by the design press for elitism and lack of concern for the public. The question of how to display architecture in an exhibition is not an easy one to answer but criticism most often focuses on each biennale’s emphasis on art-like installations rather than on attempts to grapple seriously with the important architecture and urban issues of the day. Gregotti, for example claimed that when it comes to presenting architecture “communicating with the public is practically impossible” but then he did the first biennale in which he claimed: “I wanted to make a clear and certain declaration that the biennale was open to the public, to Venice and to non-specialists.” Even the curator of the famous 1980 Strada Novissima exhibition in the Arsenale, Paolo Portoghesi, asserted at the time that architecture had lost its ability to “speak to the common people.” But this lack of communicating was behind the creation of his cinematic facades lining both sides of the Arsenale. The best exhibitions of architecture, according to biennale president Paolo Baratta, are the ones that are the most cinematic and entertaining. Yet it is equally true that the best ones are those that inspire without preaching. How well did the 2010 biennale do in this regard? This is the fourth Venice biennale that I have attended and this year there seemed to be even more displays of art-like installations than before. Mostly, they focused on the nature of design as a way of inspiring people to recognize the power of architecture. But then the question is, whether design in the absence of urbanism is architecture or just design? The great thing about the biennale is that there is always something for everyone to love (or to hate) regardless of their position. The Kingdom of Bahrain’s national pavilion consisting of actual hand-hewn shacks imported for display and judged the best by the biennale team of jurors, proved that architectural ideas and concerns can be displayed in an exhibition setting. Throughout the biennale many exhibition spaces were, in fact, examples of architectural ideas on display that didn’t need to resort to strategies of artistic practice. It should be noted that in the biannual complaining— for which opportunities abounded at such venues as Raumlabor Berlin’s inflatable bubble space, Volume journal’s Dutch pavilion, and Robert White’s Dark Side club soireés—concerns about cost and exclusivity of its message are now getting more serious. There were many people speculating that the biennale format may have outlived its usefulness and should be abandoned. Some of this is a reflection of the ubiquity of communications and image-making on the web, but it is also a feeling that money would be better spent on solving more demanding issues, like poverty and affordable housing. I know from experience that staging a biennale in a national pavilion cost in excess of $400,000, and there are rumors that this year the Austrian pavilion cost in excess of $800,000, while the Germans at their pavilion showed only drawings and it still cost $650,000. If you add up all the pavilions, the Arsenale, the giardini, not to mention the parties and airfare, this is a $20 million to $30 million affair, an increasingly flashy two-month party. How much longer can, or should, we carry on? Look for a final blog post on the Golden Lions, the national pavilions, and the events surrounding the biennale.
Nothing much to report from yesterday, as it was a day of formal openings when very little was in fact open to the press or public. It was mostly a day of introductory speeches by biennale directors and city and government officials. Frank Gehry presented some models, made a few brief remarks, and then everyone headed for the hallway, where we had our first free prosecco and great little appetizers. Journalists and media types stood around asking about where the best parties were to be had in the coming days (more on this later). Today—after two days of too many speeches and press conferences—the biennale finally opened the doors of both the Arsenale and the national pavilions in the giardini, and everyone had their first chance to officially see if people really do meet in architecture. I ran through the projects installed in the Arsenale and in the afternoon the Italian pavilion in the giardini, which is of course not the Italian pavilion but simply a large exhibition space. The gigantic Arsenale has only 15 installations this year, giving each vast amounts of space in which to confront visitors. Most are therefore huge installations and are really engaged in design pyrotechnics more than displays of building models. They are architecture, but in what is fast becoming a kind of biennale style, halfway between design and art. These include a 3-D film by Wim Wenders of SANAA’s Rolex Center and a smoke-filled cloud room with a long spiral ramp that is a pale replica of Diller and Scofidio’s Blur Building from 2002. Another space titled Architecture as Air: Study for Chateau La Coste by the architect Junya Ishigami is constructed from a field of thin monofilament pieces precisely arrayed across the space like a barely visible Fred Sandback string sculpture. Ishigami’s piece is indecipherable and most visitors simply pass through, but I was told by some young workers that it was meant to be a self-supporting line house until a cat ran through last night and it came crashing down. Can this be true? Anyway, it’s a good story. Like what happened yesterday to Aaron Betsky, who curated the biennale in 2008. He was turned back at the door because he did not have the right credentials. When he protested that he had been the curator two years ago, an official replied: “So what are you doing at the biennale this year?” In the afternoon, I saw the Italian pavilion, which Italian curator Luca Molinari has filled with a more diverse body of work than displayed in the Arsenale, ranging from installation projects to artworks and models. It’s hard in a quick blog post to summarize the work in this enormous pavilion without flattening out the diversity here or reverting to clichés. It deserves more thought and attention and individual consideration and that’s what I will try and do in an upcoming post. But if there is a theme in the Italian pavilion, it is that more than a few critique or try to update the notion of utopia either in its early idealization—or the more recent consideration of it as not a model worth considering. There is Tom Sachs' installation of slightly torn paper Corbusian prototypes on the one side, and Aldo Cibic’s wonderful small-scale utopian landscape of idealized building types, from high-design, high-density housing to bland suburban cul de sacs. In between these are all sorts of architectural thoughts, but none more thoughtful than Rem Koolhaas and a history of his Office for Metropolitan Architecture, a tribute to his winning this year’s Golden Lion. I did have a chance to check out the British pavilion and see its wonderful muf-designed wooden "medical school" theater and miniature Venetian estuary complete with crabs and snails. Both show the advantage of having designers of muf’s ability curating an exhibition. Finally, the Ryue Nishizawa-curated Japanese pavilion is also rethinking utopia, in this case a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Metabolist movement. It brings back the movement but argues in fact that the city is organic and, as Aaron Levy claims, “beyond politics.” Now for the important stuff: The best party so far was the Audi Urban Futures event at the fabulous and long-vacant Misericordia space, which a Venetian friend used as a basketball court when she was a child. The highlight of the party was the announcement that the Future Award (worth 100,000 euros) was won by Jurgen Mayer H., an architect of great design talent who is now beginning to emerge as an international force. With the biennale finally underway, I’m beginning to wonder if Sejima is right, and people meet in architecture, or, as Italian critic Luigi Prestinenza Pugliese says, does this show prove that “architects don’t really like people?”